Lake Taupo: Special Olympics swimmers break record

Tate Pichon during the Lake Taupo crossing. Photo: Special Olympics New Zealand.

Two Special Olympics swimmers from Auckland have completed a 33km swim across Lake Taupo to raise funds for their club mates to attend the National Summer Games in Hamilton in December.

In the process, Tate Pichon, 25, broke the record for the west-east crossing, climbing out of the water after 10 hours and 26 minutes, followed 23 minutes later by 22-year-old Joshua Vegar.

Despite never swimming more than 20km before the race, the two were in good spirits during and after the crossing.

“Next year you can do this and I’ll be on the boat,” says Tate to his support crew as he climbed out of the water on the eastern shore of Lake Taupo.

“How do I feel? Good. Don’t ask me again,” grinned the athlete who has been swimming for North Harbour Special Olympics for around six years, while Joshua has been part of the Waitakere Special Olympics club for more than a decade.

Tate Pichon, coach Susan Sherwen and Joshua Vegar before the crossing. Photo: Special Olympics New Zealand.

Tate’s father Ray says the idea for the fundraiser was born last year when the Freemasons New Zealand Special Olympics National Summer Games had to be postponed by a year due to the Covid pandemic.

“So they have been building up to this for some time,” says Ray.

Even though their physical and mental strength were severely tested, both athletes still had energy for some terrific banter, splashing the support crews, who in return retaliated with water pistols.

Ray says that the two friends had done several long-distance swims before, but the Taupo crossing was a whole new challenge.

“They have done quite a few 5km and 10km swims before and have done one 20km swim, but this will be next level,” says Ray, who estimates that the duo have done more than 400km in the water this year to prepare for their crossing.

Tate and Josh have become familiar faces in the Ocean Swim Series, the Takapuna Beach series and O Swim events where they have already conquered Akaroa Harbour, Wellington Harbour, Under the Harbour Bridge and Bean Rock Lighthouse events.

The pair made lots of new friends, including many of the high-profile swimmers who offered their support.

The Special Olympics athletes have been training with ultra-swimmers Claire Hobson and Susan Sherwen, who recently made headlines when she crossed the Foveaux Strait.

“The support has been absolutely amazing,” says Ray.

Tate and Joshua hope their fundraiser will raise enough funds to help pay for the North Harbour and Waitakere clubs to attend the National Summer Games in Hamilton, from December 8.

Over 1200 athletes will compete in 10 sports across eight venues around Hamilton, which will be the biggest sporting event in New Zealand in 2022.

Tate Pichon reflects on his achievement after completing his crossing. Photo: Special Olympics New Zealand.

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